Your guide to basic car maintenance : Life Kit : NPR


This is NPR’s Lifestyle Kit. I am Gabrielle Horton. In the initial 12 months of the pandemic, I made the decision to get a new automobile lease. And have faith in me it was even shocking to me due to the fact I am not a car or truck person by any signifies. But I had a new puppy, and I observed myself using much more and much more street trips. So a lease created feeling for me at the time mainly because even the notion of committing myself to a whole-on automobile obtain – it just felt far too overpowering. To be sincere, I’ve normally had a alternatively wary connection to autos. The working day-to-day routine maintenance of it all has constantly supplied me the most strain, a little something that would normally price me a very penny. And however, all of that soon proved to be real with my new automobile.

There were being all of these electrical difficulties that kept bringing me again and forth to the assistance heart. And it was all the more discouraging not only since I could not determine out what the actual situation was but due to the fact I didn’t often come to feel safe in my vehicle. And when I did reach out for support, I could not normally have an understanding of mechanic communicate. A tiny above a 12 months in, my automobile was officially declared defunct. Now that I have had some time with no a auto, I got to say I am completely ready to examination the waters once again, but this time I want to feel more qualified dealing with and caring for my car or truck. So it only would make sense that I’d contact up Chaya Milchetin to aid me and us unpack it all.


CHAYA MILCHTEIN: It is really your favourite queer automotive educator and what we simply call a tune-up on most modern day cars.

HORTON: Dependent in Milwaukee, Wis., Chaya is the founder of Mechanic Shop Femme, an automotive training company that focuses on serving to women and users of the LGBTQ+ neighborhood come to feel empowered to obtain and care for their automobiles.

MILCHTEIN: Mechanic Store Femme’s objective is truly to educate the standard, each day men and women like you and me who are on the lookout to just conserve a very little little bit of income, just take care of their automobiles so that they final them a long time.

HORTON: For this episode of Life Kit, Chaya breaks down essential basic safety features, how to find the mechanic for you and so substantially more. So regardless of whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned professional on the highway, buckle your seatbelts as we vacation through auto maintenance 101.


HORTON: Very first and foremost, Chaya, I love that your TikTok films seriously stimulate men and women to discover how to care for their vehicles and on their own, proper? And I believe that’s almost certainly most evident in the wonderful information that you’re consistently sharing about motor vehicle safety. So let us just start off there. What are some ways that motorists can develop into much more comfy finding out motor vehicle basic safety fundamentals on their very own?

MILCHTEIN: So it’s definitely information that really significantly every person from all backgrounds and all ages can use to acquire much better treatment of their automobile. Even if they have a fantastic mechanic that they go to, there are matters you will need to do to choose care of your car involving all those mechanic visits. And tire stress is a wonderful illustration of that. If you have a motor vehicle that has tire tension sensors which are reading the tire stress amount on your tires and your tire tension sensors are working, which is an significant difference, then you really should be even now examining your tire stress once a month. What I ordinarily counsel is you actually put a reminder in your cell phone to do it that at the time a month. It must be completed either 1st issue in the morning or just after acquiring been driving for 4 several hours. But if your tire stress sensors usually are not performing or you do not have tire stress sensors, then you should be checking your tire tension about two times a month.

Right tire tension is going to support you get superior fuel performance. It can be also going to support you help save income on tires by themselves simply because if your tires are below- or overinflated for a extensive time period of time, your tires can in fact get ruined by this by donning inconsistently, causing you to need to have to swap your tires substantially, a great deal faster than you would if not. And we all know tires are high-priced.

HORTON: Definitely. And what about matters like wiper blades? How can drivers acquire improved care of those people front and back wiper blades?

MILCHTEIN: As constantly, when I discuss about wiper blades, I notify men and women that, truly, wiper blades should really be transformed about each and every six months with some exceptions if you get a substantially greater high quality blade, which perhaps will past you a tiny bit for a longer time. And each time I discuss about this, I get bombarded with reviews from men and women who are like, oh, my God, I have not modified my wiper blades in three yrs or 4 a long time, or, you know, I never know how to modify my wiper blades, which are really one of the quite, pretty uncomplicated issues that you could just take care of you on your vehicle.

One more concern that people inquire me about wiper blades a ton is, which wiper blades do I need for my car? And wiper blades are offered by the length. They vary from car to motor vehicle, and you can go on any vehicle components retailer web site and enter your car information and facts to get the appropriate wiper blade size The only tip I give when changing wiper blades is that when you raise the wiper blades arms off of your windshield, it is vital that you set something down, whether it can be a towel or a blanket, for the reason that if you fall the wiper arm on the glass after you’ve removed the wiper blade, you have a unique risk of cracking your windshield.

HORTON: You know, a little something else that you chat about a great deal on your TikTok website page is seatbelt extenders. And I have to be genuine. I did not know that these even existed or what they were being until I came throughout your TikTok. And so can you just communicate a minor bit more about what seatbelt extenders are, why they are so significant and how individuals can start off to use them and it’s possible even buy them, proper?

MILCHTEIN: So you could get a seatbelt extender from some dealerships, and that is definitely heading to be your initially decision. It is really critical that when you get a seatbelt extender, you purchase the appropriate just one for your specific vehicle as opposed to a universal seatbelt extender. They’re normally all around $20 – so not truly costly, which delivers me to my future issue. If you are listening to this and you’re contemplating, ah, seatbelt extenders – I really don’t need a seatbelt extender, I absolutely have an understanding of. But what about the people you like? Does your spouse or your little ones or your family associates or your good friends or your colleagues – are they even bigger? Are they ever going to ride in your car or truck? Will they want a seatbelt extender in your automobile? I am seriously of the perception that it can be crucial that every person have a seatbelt extender in their glove box just in situation, at some level, they are necessary simply because they are precise to motor vehicle.

HORTON: Are there other sort of basic safety checks that you imagine people today need to be undertaking just about every couple months or each yr with their auto that we have not previously touched on?

MILCHTEIN: So here’s what I recommend. Place in a reminder on your cellphone to look at your tire tension and also to check your engine oil stage. Most vehicles – with really number of exceptions, exclusively Volkswagen and Audi – most vehicles need you to check your motor oil amount also initially matter in the early morning or soon after your car or truck hasn’t been pushed for 4 several hours since the motor requirements to be cold for an correct studying. What you’re heading to be wanting for is adjustments in the degree of the oil. So if the oil level is too low or at times if the oil degree is as well significant, which is some thing that would require to be dealt with. You’re hunting for any kind of key modifications in color or regularity.

When you are examining your oil stage, you also get a chance to, you know, get a rapid peek under your hood. You could possibly see that your battery has acid that is leaking or anything else that would seem out of put for the reason that you have a baseline for what it is really intended to appear like. What I like to say is if you have a car that has less than a hundred thousand miles and you have no complications with burning oil, then I would verify it once a thirty day period. If you have a vehicle that’s over a hundred thousand miles or you have a difficulty the place your oil is burning and it is really making use of additional oil than it should, then I would be examining your engine oil 2 times a month. And this is something that could help save you a lot of income in the very long run.

HORTON: I am really glad you pointed out mileage due to the fact I am contemplating a good deal about people today who have more mature vehicles or, you know, cars and trucks that have logged about a hundred thousand miles. Are there precise protection actions that these motorists ought to be wondering about in individual?

MILCHTEIN: You will find a thing else that I would have every person else do also – it’s just on a significantly longer time body – and that would be examining and modifying your car’s air filter. So what I typically propose is that everybody should really test their motor air filter at the time a 12 months. And your entrepreneurs manual will notify you the bare minimum total of periods that you must alter it, but you can inform by wanting at the engine air filter whether it may perhaps have to have to be transformed sooner because of the air good quality or disorders that you dwell in. So what you do is you choose the motor air filter out, which – for most autos, it can be going to be two clips or four clips or 4 screws, which is seriously, definitely, definitely straightforward. So you can expect to get your air filter out, and you can basically just glimpse through it at the sunlight. If it has significantly less than 50% light transparency, it truly is time to swap it out.

HORTON: Actually, I never know if we can even speak about motor vehicle maintenance without having speaking about the sheer anxiousness that creeps in excess of you when that dreaded test engine light will come on. Chaya, talk to us. What is the rapid next action drivers need to do after they see that check out motor mild?

MILCHTEIN: So that’s a great problem. If your test engine gentle comes on and it starts flashing, this is an crisis. You need to have to go in. You require to get your vehicle towed. I would pull it above suitable away. Most of the time, this is happening mainly because you have a many misfire. But whatever it is, your car’s telling you, this is an emergency suitable now. Most check out engine light-weight arrives on, and nothing comes about with the automobile. The light-weight will come on, the auto drives specifically the way it does. If that is the case, there’s a couple methods you could go about it. Just one, you can go just take it to your mechanic. You can get it checked. You can get it diagnosed, and you can get it preset. However, for a large amount of men and women, when this gentle arrives on, it brings about a lot of anxiety, and they’re worried about how much of an financial investment are they heading to have to make in their car or truck? What sort of damage is this going to do?

For individuals people, they could use a code checker to pull the code that the engine computer system has stored, and then they can type of do some analysis all-around the code to come across out what the most frequent challenges are. The a single thing which is truly vital to continue to keep in brain, if you’re any individual who needs to use a code checker, is that a code checker is not a diagnostic software. A code checker is just telling you the place of the process that there is a difficulty. But unless any person truly goes in and physically verifies all of individuals various worries, you may well be correcting anything that’s the symptom of what the genuine issue is and not the difficulty. So it is significant that you actually go and get your vehicle identified when you get a check engine light at some position due to the fact you happen to be going to want to make an educated choice on what you do next.

HORTON: This is a great transition because to your place, Chaya, there are going to absolutely be circumstances the place you happen to be likely to need to have some additional aid. And that usually means that you might be heading to in all probability start off seeking for a close by automobile physique shop, and you’re likely likely to want to uncover a mechanic. So what high-quality really should individuals be hunting for as they look for for a new mechanic?

MILCHTEIN: I like to assume of acquiring a mechanic, type of like dating. You are heading to want to go to a several sites, determine out which just one feels excellent and then gradually create that marriage above time. And it truly is essential that you do this system right before you truly have a car or truck crisis since it’s really challenging to develop a connection when you might be panicking about what’s taking place with your auto. So you will find a couple strategies you could do this. You can go on to your area Fb teams or WhatsApp teams, nearby neighborhood discussion boards, and you can check with individuals, what are the mechanics that you go to that you’ve been likely to for a prolonged time that you absolutely enjoy? And what I counsel is you make a checklist of two, a few, perhaps 4 areas that you’re likely to want to, quotation-unquote, “job interview.” You might be going to decide a support that you happen to be likely to want to do so that you have a chance to get to know the shop.

Normally, I’m likely to advise you do some thing like an oil transform, a pre-order inspection, a pre-highway journey inspection, something in which they have the ability to test far more than just just one thing on your car, so you have one thing to converse about. And I advise you inquire inquiries, even if you know what it wants and even if you know the service that it has, due to the fact you want to see how they talk with you. Do they deal with you with regard? Are they willing to describe things that you really don’t have an understanding of in further depth? Are they keen to exhibit you the trouble on the automobile?

After you’ve got taken your vehicle residence, just after your very first take a look at, you form of assess, just like right after that 1st day, and imagine, hey, how did that go? How did I feel? Did they communicate with me in a way that felt sincere? Was it Alright with them if I resolved this is a support that I preferred to press off for a small little bit? Were they equipped to describe to me which providers experienced to be carried out suitable now and which ones could hold out a little bit? Like, were they capable to prioritize the repairs for me? And, you know, you sort of retain pursuing the approach till you really feel comfortable and self-confident. And if you go to the shop and you depart and you might be like, I am not thoroughly confident if this is the suitable point for me, then move on to the next store on your listing. That is entirely Alright. It can be genuinely important, when it arrives to getting treatment of your car, that you have faith in your gut.

HORTON: Alright, so let us say you have this amazing mechanic that you’ve been heading to for a though, but you happen to be at a level in which you’ve place all this time and income into the automobile and the troubles do not actually look to be heading away. When should drivers commence to take into consideration – you know what? It may well be time for a new auto.

MILCHTEIN: When a whole lot of folks get requested this problem, they speak about how much the car’s well worth as opposed to how substantially do the job you have to place into the car or truck. And I really don’t like to glimpse at it like that simply because how significantly your car’s technically worth on the resale industry isn’t going to aspect in how considerably your automobile is value to you. So if your car is obtaining you to operate each solitary day and you don’t have the dollars to replace the car or truck, then your car’s truly worth a lot more to you than the greenback volume that it is worthy of automatically suggests, right?

An additional factor that you want to take into consideration is safety. What is the situation that the motor vehicle is in? Are – is there important rust that could cause the automobile to be unsafe to you or to other men and women on the highway? Is there important rust on your brake traces or your gas strains? Is your body rusted? Main, key concerns and matters that you are not going to be able to spend the funds in buy to resolve.

One more aspect is if you have a automobile which is been discontinued or is much, substantially more mature, and each and every solitary time you are looking to have a form of fix finished on your motor vehicle and it begins to grow to be more durable and more difficult to come across areas, it might make sense for you to start off searching for a vehicle at that issue. And then, you know, of program you have other components that you will have to personally choose into account when it comes to deciding irrespective of whether it is really time for a new auto. It’s possible you just want a new auto.

HORTON: This has all been so beneficial. And I guess I’m curious to know, what parting advice do you have for individuals like me who could possibly be anxious to get back again out there and perhaps have been even a small intimidated at the idea of even maintaining a motor vehicle in these occasions? You know, what do you say to us?

MILCHTEIN: Here’s the issue – your entrepreneurs guide, which we haven’t talked about, is definitely the guideline to your auto. And it is really likely to have the minimal servicing requirements that you need to do for your car or truck. It’s going to convey to you when to alter your oil, when to change your air filter, when to improve your transmission fluid, when to adjust your spark plugs. And it is – it actually is 1 of the finest methods when it arrives to vehicles’ certain information and facts that you can accessibility at your fingertips. And some persons will be like, to start with of all, Chaya, like, arrive on, nobody’s looking at the entrepreneurs manual. And I get it. No person claimed you had to read the total house owners handbook, but read through the part in the entrepreneurs manual that addresses servicing and what servicing you have to do.

But also, folks have been getting care of cars for generations. It really is a rite of passage. It can be a little something that practically everybody in this state at some stage is likely to do. If you have your owner’s guide, you acquire the techniques you need to locate a fantastic mechanic proper absent in its place of waiting until finally you have an unexpected emergency, you know, you do the few basic upkeep things that you should really be undertaking you at household, you are likely to be off to a considerably greater commence than most individuals have.

HORTON: That was Chaya Milchtein. You can discover her video clips @mechanicshopfemme on Instagram and TikTok, and you can find out additional about her upcoming courses at her web page,

This vehicle routine maintenance 101 journey has been a lot of enjoyable, but we are coming to an end. So let’s recap. Prioritize car or truck protection. Make positive you might be creating regimen checks for tire force, wiper blades and oil ranges. Spend in seatbelt extenders to preserve all of your passengers risk-free. For older automobiles, make positive your engine air filter is functioning properly. And when that check out engine light-weight arrives on, do not ignore it. And let’s say you have to have much more support. Make absolutely sure you discover a mechanic you can go constant with. As Chaya reminds us, finding a mechanic is a great deal like dating. Consider out a couple distinct options before you land on the finest in shape for you, but also know when it really is time to move on – to a new motor vehicle, that is. You will want to contemplate your car’s security issue and entry to automobile replacement areas in advance of producing any massive choices. And when all else fails, decide on up that entrepreneurs manual, which can frequently be downloaded online and even in languages in addition to English or available in more compact sections on YouTube. But extra importantly, belief your gut. Driving a automobile is significant stuff, and we all deserve to sense capable and safe no make a difference how much the journey.

For additional Everyday living Kit, verify out our other episodes on car tenting, biking and how to come across your footing outdoor. You can obtain people at And if you appreciate Existence Kit like I enjoy Existence Package, and you want some far more, subscribe to our e-newsletter at And now a absolutely random tip.

RYAN MULHEARN: Hey, this is Ryan Mulhearn (ph), and my idea for you is if you want to measure something and you will not have a ruler on you, the length of a dollar invoice is somewhere around 6 inches.

HORTON: If you feel you’ve bought a good tip, we want to listen to it. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or e-mail us a voice memo at [email protected] This episode of Life Kit was created by Sylvie Douglis. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our electronic editor is Dalia Mortada, and our visuals editor is Beck Harlan. Our generation group also involves Andee Tagle, Audrey Nguyen, Mansee Khurana, Michelle Aslam and Vanessa Helpful. I’m Gabrielle Horton. Thanks for listening.

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